On eve of fourth album, Ra Ra Riot takes Aspen Mountain

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Rock band Ra Ra Riot will play a free show at Aspen Mountain's gondola plaza on Saturday night as part of the Hi-Fi Concert Series.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

Who: Ra Ra Riot, Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series

Where: Gondola Plaza, Aspen Mountain

When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m.

How much: Free

More info:

Ra Ra Riot formed as a college rock band at Syracuse University 10 years ago with the modest goal of playing some house parties around campus. But when their baroque rock sound and feisty live shows took off, first in small tours around the northeast, then in national ones, the band’s five members wrote out some dream goals.

“At some point we sat down and said, ‘What do we want out of this?’” bassist Mat Santos said earlier this week from Brooklyn. “We made this list of ambitious lofty goals, which was mostly a joke to us — like, let’s play on Letterman. Let’s tour Japan.”

Unbeknownst to Ra Ra Riot’s members, their manager hung onto the list, and recently — as the band considered its future after 10 years together — showed it to them. They’d checked off every item on the bucket list.

The band is in Aspen this weekend to play a free show at the base of Aspen Mountain as part of Aspen Skiing Co.’s Hi-Fi Concert Series. The outdoor show comes on the eve of the band’s fourth studio album, “Need Your Light,” due out Friday, and a North American tour that runs through June.

In the calm before the storm, Ra Ra Riot, has been reflecting a bit and looking forward. They’ve also made a new list of goals.

“They’re top secret,” Santos said with a laugh. “The main goal is to keep growing together and inspiring each other. And having fun, as silly as it sounds, is the main goal. We wouldn’t still be together after 10 years if we weren’t having fun.”

After 2013’s “Beta Love” and the attendant world tour, the band took some time off with members doing side projects. That experience, Santos said, taught them they need to stay busy creatively. Don’t expect Ra Ra Riot to take another break any time soon.

“It gave us a moment to take a breath and consider everything that we’d done together so far, why we wanted to be in a band in the first place,” Santos said. “At first we were talking about taking a year or two years off. But after only a few months had gone by, we were all making music individually and got back together sooner than planned because we felt the itch.”

Over the course of their first three albums, the band moved away from the signature of its early work: indie rock with orchestral arrangements. The move toward more synth-driven pop and a dance-friendly style, Santos said, was less about consciously changing styles and more about not limiting their sonic palette.

For “Need Your Light,” the band went back and worked with the three producers who guided them, individually, through their first three albums.

They recorded in Seattle with Ryan Hadlock in the studio where they made their first album — 2008’s “The Rhumb Line” — and in Brooklyn with Andrew Maury, who produced 2010’s “The Orchard.” They went to Los Angeles to work with Dennis Herring, who produced “Beta Love,” and recorded with longtime collaborator Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend. They also recorded some pieces in Milwaukee and upstate New York.

“Everything about this album is like a collage in a lot of ways,” Santos said. “It felt like a milestone record. It was a good time to look back, to consider the things that had been the most successful in the last 10 years, the collaborations that were the strongest. So we recorded and wrote with the producers from all the past records. That was fun, to cherry pick from the past, but to also use the last album as a jumping off point into something new for us.”

This winter, they’ve released three singles from the forthcoming album — the shimmering, ebullient indie-pop songs “Foreign Lovers” and “Absolutely” and the anthemic “Water” (co-written with Batmanglij).

“We’ll definitely play those and probably a few more from the record,” Santos said. “Even though people haven’t heard the rest of the record yet, we’re too excited not to play some of those songs.”